IN one of two Ateneo Alumni egroups that I belong to, one of us started a ‘remember when’ nostalgia trip and unwittingly unlocked wave upon wave of memories.
From the usual dozen or so emails I get every day from the alumni group, my inbox was suddenly inundated with over 40 emails a day for about a month in the running. Long-forgotten bits and pieces of the past spilled out from aging cerebral cortexes – from favorite teachers to the favorite soda fountain hang outs and the other few recreation places we had when Cubao, Greenhills and Makati were then hardly the shape and form they are today.
Of course, over 61% of our population today who had been born only in the years after the declaration of Martial Law on September 21, 1972 will not be able to relate to those good old days when the Philippines happened to be second only to Japan in economic performance in Asia. Those of the next generation in my own family were all born after Martial Law and they can only gape in awe when we talk about how we had once been the envy of our Southeast Asian neighbors who sent their children here for that highly priced well-rounded education. Or when we tell them that the Philippine peso then was only P2 to US$1, how our currency enjoyed a P1 to HK$2 exchange rate and what shopping then in Hong Kong meant to the holder of the almighty peso.
On first instance, the next generation meets all this with disbelief. On second scrutiny, they become bewildered. For them, enjoying but half of what we had going in the 50s and mid-60s would suffice to create a paradise of sorts taken in the context of the Philippines they had known for the last 10 years.
All this makes us wonder if we of the older generation are better off and more fortunate having known happier times. Or are the members of the next generation who were born without the personal experience to form the basis of comparison between better and worse times more blessed in never being able know what they have missed?
Yet this is the tale of two Filipino generations today. The post-war babies born between 1946 and 1960 are the baby boomer generation. The other set are the Gen X and the Gen Y. The baby boomers have a past worth remembering while those of the Gens X and Y hardly have a future to look forward to.
To us the baby boomers, we were told to be self-reliant by obtaining a proper education. We believed and we knew that a college degree guaranteed a comfortable life, a secure future. A post-graduate education then even assured a baby boomer from the underclass a chance to uplift his living standards. In those days, our news dailies were replete with tales of rags to riches, of impoverished students elevated to higher stature by sheer determination to complete higher studies.
In fact, many baby boomers became successful even without attaining a college degree, nothing extraordinary about that. Some college undergraduates were so successful in their chosen fields that the Department of Education had allowed them to teach in universities on the merit of their own successes which in themselves took the equivalent of post-graduate credentials.
Nowadays, I hardly hear of such feats among the Gen Y and the Gen Xers. Theirs is a different reality altogether. In the world today of the Gen Y and the Gen X, not even a post-graduate degree can guarantee employment. To a baby boomer entering Harvard in 1964, he already has a list of companies wanting to hire him when he returns to the country. For a Gen Y today returning from Harvard, he too must join the employment line.
After the assassination of Ninoy Aquino on August 21, 1983, the economy went on a tailspin. I was then the president of a medium sized ad agency and we placed a classified ad for an account management assistant. Normally, fresh graduates of a Mass Communications bachelor’s degree would apply for such vacancies. But to my surprise, I received, among others, an application from a fresh graduate from Yale University. That was unheard of in that day and age. At about that time too, my good friend, film director Marilou Diaz-Abaya opened a watering hole for yuppies in Quezon City. Marilou was looking for high school graduates to serve as waiters. To her surprise, Marilou received a deluge of applications from college graduates.
There was a Batasan Pambansa (as the Marcos era rubber stamp parliament was called) election coming and I was part of the opposition communications planning team in 1984. When we were assessing the issues to be raised in that campaign, it was brought to our attention that in provinces like Tarlac, people were down to eating just two meals a day. To us, at that time, that seemed like a big issue. Since 1946, especially in the provinces where food is more readily available, it has never happened that Filipinos ate only two meals a day.
That was 1984. The Philippine peso sank from P13 to the US$1 before 1983 to P 24 to US$1. The national debt was known to be at a level of P28 billion – to us then that was an astronomical amount and boggled the national imagination. Jobs did become scarce in the country. But the era of overseas employment was only just beginning. No job here, just go there. And yes, poor Filipinos were down to eating two meals a day.
Today, in 2004, we have:
1. A peso that stands P56.05 to the US$1 and fast sinking.
2. A national debt of over P3 trillion, the annual interest payment of which amounts to one-third of our national budget.
3. No jobs here and hardly any too over there. So much so that there are takers for jobs in war torn Iraq.
Now, from what we hear, many from the bottom rung of the socio-economic ladder are down to eating barely one meal a day. Which – based on the known prices of basic commodities and the daily wage of the average class E family – it is doubted if that one meal is even sufficient to qualify as a decent repast.
And what do the Filipino people see? They see a political leadership that continues to be petty and persists in playing its power games. They who are down to their last morsel are the ones being asked to pay more taxes, be more austere – while their representatives cannot even give up their pork and their perks and the First Family gallivants with babies and nannies on overseas dollar depleting holidays.
Thus to us baby boomers, who had the benefit of a happier, kinder, gentler past, we revel in our memories in the hope of drowning out the bitter realities of the present. We would rather reminisce about the era of President Diosdado Macapagal – the last of the good old days – rather than suffer the pits of our frustrations over the era of the Macapagal in Malacanang today.
But to the Gen Y and Gen Xers who never had the joys of such a past and only saw depression evolve into desperation, we wonder just how long they can keep the lid on their anger and their spite. They neither have a memory of a pleasant past nor a glimmer of hope for a better future.